Fish Fry After Effects: Get Home Early

Here is a story Joe Berry wrote while he was listening to music at the fish fry this last week:

 From: Joe Berry

To: Louise Todd

Sent: Monday, April 14, 2014 3:14 AM







 On Sun, Apr 13, 2014 at 8:35 PM, to Louise Todd


(And “Thanks” to my music friends with Athens Dulcimers)

 I had tried to shy away from that area for the past sixty-five years. The few times I had gone that way, I had tended to my business and got in and out as soon as I could. But the fish-fry I was invited to was only about halfway to the real trouble spot and it had been long enough since I had my trouble in northeast Mississippi, I took my chances and went

 Yesterday was a lot different with my friends and their good music and song. Without a runaway gal, a quart of a Mississippi homebrew, a justice of the peace, the confines of the Walnut, Mississippi jail, a car wreck, and two broken legs, it was a much nicer, quieter, and just an all-round better day. Much better! As my friends made their music, I recalled that neck of the woods further west and my trip to Walnut, Mississippi, sixty-five years ago.

 Well, actually my trip was to the Sapps Community a few miles south and west of Walnut. I had gone a call’n on a preacher’s daughter who said she lived there, name of Ruby. I had met Ruby a few weeks earlier in Memphis and Ruby had made a promise to run away with me and get married if I would come to Sapps and ask her daddy for her hand. Said she would meet me there in two weeks and allowed as how she would be mighty proud to marry me in a new dress. I gave her $25 for a new dress and told her I’d be proud to come to Sapps and meet her daddy.

 So, I cleaned up my ’37 Ford spic and span. It had the Ford V-8 engine and would run like a jack rabbit. I mean I had that Ford looking like new. I went to Sapps with running away with a real looker on my mind. I was hoping the new dress would be a red one. Bright red, like a Huntsville fire truck.

 Got there. Found the church and Ruby’s daddy who laughed when I told him I was call’n for Ruby. He said Ruby took to her own call’n three years earlier and had not been seen at Sapps since she left. Turned out I had wasted two days in polishing up my Ford and driving all the way from New Market for nothing. Now I knew why they called it the Sapps Community. At least, I had saved the $25 I intended to pay the preacher who married me and Ruby. Turned out I needed it.

 I got flagged down by a deputy sheriff as I was going back through Walnut. He said I was doing 25 in a 35 zone and he would have to hold me in the Walnut jail until Friday when the justice of peace held his court. It was Monday and I told the deputy that seemed like a mighty long wait.

 The deputy smiled and said the justice of peace was a friend of his and was sometimes know to work out special arrangements in hardship cases. The deputy winked at me when he said that and drove me about a mile down the road to see the justice of the peace. Turned out the justice of the peace was the brother of the deputy.

 The justice listened to my story. Both he and the deputy smiled when I mentioned Ruby. After the justice listened to my say, he smiled again and mentioned a little “side business” that he had and pointed to a quart jar of homebrew sitting beside the sign on his desk that read, “Justice under the Law, Mercy under the Justice of the Peace

 The label on the quart fruit jar of homebrew read, “Justice is Slow—Mercy Quicker—Get Home Early–$5.” It seemed like buying a a quart of homebrew was the right thing to do.

 About the time I reached for my jar of Get Home Early, the deputy said he had another call and I would have to walk back to Walnut for my Ford that had been left parked at the courthouse. The deputy suggested I keep the jar of Get Home Early out-of-sight as I walked through Walnut. The justice of peace handed me a new paper sack, he had a whole stack of new paper sacks, all quart size.

 I hoofed it back to town, keeping the pleasure of Get Home Early concealed in the sack, got in my spic and span Ford and made it a half-mile out of Walnut to a big barn on my right. As I passed the barn, I recognized the ’39 Plymouth with the red bubble light on top and the proud sign on the side that read, “County Sheriff.” I kind of thought I might be in trouble, again. I had been doing 35 five in a 45 zone and it was the same deputy.

 I was mistaken. The deputy said nothing about my speeding. But on the way to jail, he did explain it was his sworn duty to arrest anyone possessing illegal homebrew in a dry county. He was still friendly, smiling and winking when he said it. At the jail, the deputy rolled-up both of his shirt sleeves. I counted eight wrist watches on his right arm and seven on his left. He grinned and winked again and said, “I’m sort of a watch collector, do you have one you would like to be shed of?”

 I got the drift of his invitation to do some business, but I didn’t have a watch. So, I was the first one locked up in the Walnut jail that Monday. By midnight, eight more fellows were locked up with me, all had been arrested by the deputy who arrested me, and all had bought the same quart of Get Home Early from the same justice of peace.

 Early the next morning, Tuesday, the smiling deputy told the nine of us that if we would agree to spare the county the cost of feeding us four days as we waited trial, the justice of peace would hold “early court” to hear our cases. The deputy said, “To spare the county costs of utilities and paperwork, the early court is held at the JP’s house and no receipts are issued.”

 By this time my ’37 Ford had lost most of its polish and shine and I needed to get back on highway 72, going east to home in Alabama. All nine of us agreed to the early court arrangement. As I paid my last $20 to the JP, I could not help but notice the signs on his desk: “Justice under the Law” and “Get Home Early–$5.” When I left, I had no receipt for my money, nor did I carry a new paper bag. I was leaving the memory of Ruby and justice behind.

 I made it safely, all the way past Iuka to that big curve in the road just before you get to the Methodist Church on the left. There, right in the sharp bend of that curve, I met a man driving a big truck loaded with cows. Trouble was, the big truck with all the cows was going west, I was going east, and the big truck was claiming my side of the road. There was not enough of my ’37 Ford left in one piece to measure 24 inches long, cows were scattered all over the road and in the ditches, I wound up with a bodacious headache, and two broken legs.

 The Iuka doctors gave me some aspirin for the headache and, in about two weeks, it was gone. The Iuka doctors said my broken legs was too much for them and they shipped me to a hospital in Memphis.

 I was laid up in the Memphis hospital almost three months. I didn’t hear nothing from Ruby while I was there. Kind of disappointed, she was a real looker. I didn’t hear anything from that man who was driving the cattle truck, nor his insurance company. Doctors and hospital wanted to be paid, and they deserved it.

 I took that truck driver to law, first and only time in my life that I took someone to law. My lawyer was—well, let’s just say he was O K. The lawyer for the insurance company was much better, in a smart-alecky kind of way. He tried to make a monkey out of me, and, I guess, he did.

 In the trial, I tried to be honest in tell’n the jury how I got the bodacious headache and two broken legs. Then that insurance lawyer got hold of me. Here’s what was said:

 “Now Mr. Berry, is it not true that a state trooper came to the accident scene?”

 “Yes, sir.”

 “Is it not true that you spoke to the state trooper right there at the accident scene?”

 “Yes, sir.”

 “Is it not true that the trooper asked if you were injured and you told him you were not hurt?”

“No sir, it did not happened exactly like that.”

“Well Mr. Berry, why don’t you tell this jury the way it exactly did happen.”

“Yes sir, I’ll try. I was going east, on my side of the road when this big truck, going west, got into that sharp curve. That truck got over on my side of the road, hit me head-on, tore my Ford clean-up. I wound up in a ditch with a bodacious headache and two legs all broken up. Them cows were scattered all over the place. Some standing and hobbling around, so on their side, hollowing and bellowing, couldn’t get to their feet. I’m laying in the ditch, just like the cows that couldn’t get up.

“I must have been in that ditch a half-hour, seemed a lot longer than that, before the state trooper got there. I saw him when he got out of his car and I was glad to see what I thought was help coming.

“No sooner than the trooper got out of his car, one of the cows that lay on the ground between the trooper and me gave a loud bellow and the trooper said, ‘What’s wrong with that cow?’ Someone answered, ‘She’s got a broken leg.’

”No sooner than that was said than the trooper walked over to the bellowing cow, pulled out a hog-leg six-shooter as long as his arm, and BAM! That cow was gone. When that long pistol went “BAM” it sounded like Beauregard had decided to take Fort Sumter again.

“As the trooper made his way in my direction, some more cows on the ground bellowed and were said to have broken legs. Every time that trooper heard “broken leg,” I heard a big a BAM! come roaring out of the mouth of that long pistol.

“When the trooper got over to me, he asked, ‘Is anything wrong with you?’

“With my hurting legs and a bodacious headache, I could not remember how many times that hog-leg had shook the county with a BAM, but I did remember that label on the fruit jar advising that some things will get you home early and I did not want to take any chances. When that trooper asked if anything was wrong with me, I glanced up the hill at the dead cows, all with broken legs and I answered, “No sir, ain’t a damn thing about me hurt.”

Such were my thoughts yesterday, as my friends made good music and shared good food. In the sixty-five year interval between old memories of Ruby, the ’37 Ford and yesterday, I have whetted my taste for fried catfish, good friends and music, and tried to develop the ability to spin a good yarn.

Thank you friends for your food for both body and spirit. As you played, I dreamed of things that had been, may have been, and surely should have been.

Joe Berry


 Thanks for the story Joe!

David B



2014 Fish Fry & Dulcimer Event Slideshow

Many thanks to Johnny Wayne & Beth McCluskey for the excellent fish and yet another excuse to sit around, eat, and play our mountain dulcimers.

2014 Fish Fry & Dulcimer Event Slideshow

Short video of the hosts, music & dancing

David Bennett

Pine Mountain Settlement School and mountain dulcimers from about 1915

Ethel de Long (1879-1928) taught at the Pine Mountain Settlement School from 1913-1928. At the Settlement School the students gained a basic education as well as hands-on learning experiences in the areas of recreation, health, nutrition, and the preservation of traditional occupations, such as spinning, weaving, dancing, and music.  Ethel became accomplished at many of these creative skills, particularly the dulcimer.

For a photo of Ethel de Long with a mountain dulcimer taken about 1915 and read an  interesting article about Kentucky dulcimers from the early 1900′s go to

for more on Ethel de Long click on

If you go to the article “Dorothy H. Stiles – “Kentucky 1915″”  at and read through or scroll down about 3/4 of the way is information and two interesting photos about a dulcimer maker named Bristol Taylor. The first photo I especially like, is of Bristol Taylor playing a mountain dulcimer on the porch of his cabin.

David B

A 1977 Tennessee Highway Map & a poem

1977 Tennessee State Map (click picture for a larger image)

About two weeks ago I saw on Mark Richmond’s Face Book page a photo of a 1977 Tennessee Official Highway Map. Mark is with the Grand Old Dulcimer Club in Nashville and a friend had found and given him the map because featured on the front was a painting of a woman playing a mountain dulcimer. When Mark posted the photo on FB some of the speculation was that “maybe” the lady on the map was one of the Carter’s playing.

Soooo….. I had to have a copy of the map for myself. Looking on EBay I found and bought my own map.

Wanting to know if there was a story behind this 1977 highway map, the lady playing the dulcimer, or Steve Brady the artist, I sent an e-mail to Mike Bell, the curator at the Tennessee State Museum, to see if he might know something about the history and background of the 1977 map. I had become acquainted with Mr. Bell last year during the David Schnaufer dulcimer exhibit at the museum. Mr. Bell had also helped me with the research on my vintage (possibly pre-civil war) hammered dulcimer.

Yesterday I heard back from Mr. Bell and he had sent my inquiry to the Director of the Folklife Program Tennessee Arts Commission, Mr. Robert Cogswell. The bottom line is neither of them could find out anything about the lady playing the mountain dulcimer on the map (so it’s not likely to be one of the Carters), or even about the artist. Mr. Cogswell said he doubted that the Tennessee Department of Transportation would still have any records pertaining to production of the annual roadmap from this far back because usually such files are only kept in the state records warehouse for about 7 years.

When I thanked Mr. Bell and Mr. Cogswell for looking into it for me I told them “Thank you for taking the time to look into this for me. This is actually helpful as I mostly wanted to make sure I didn’t miss any interesting story or factoid behind the picture on the road map. The fact that there is no interesting story is, well, interesting to me.” As my map is in good shape I think I’ll frame my map and hang it with my other dulcimer memorabilia.

As an aside, while I was conducting my “research” on the 1977 map I found in the “Tennessee Blue Book” a poem written by Major Hooper Penuel that tells the history of Tennessee from the time it was “an unsettled territory” to fairly modern times. The reason I particularly liked this poem is it has a line about dulcimers. The poem is titled, I Am Tennessee. The stanza mentioning the dulcimer reads:

My music is heard around the world. Blues, soul and rock and roll from the Memphis Delta, Country from Nashville, and the unique sound of the dulcimer from Appalachia. Yes, my history is a proud one. From my early beginnings as an unsettled territory until today as a leader and a state that looks toward the future.
I Am Tennessee

If you like a little bit of regional history (after all, if I am not mistaken, the southernmost part of the original Tennessee territory use to come all the way down to the Tennessee River here in the Athens/Decatur/Huntsville area) you can read the whole poem at

David Bennett

I saw this mentioned on You can search for tunes by title, melody (typing in the notes), or even contour (a pattern)! Very handy.

Also see

David B

Flyer for Shoals Dulcimer and Folk Music Association Festival May 16 & 17 2014

  • Athens Dulcimer FaceBook

David B

Breakin’ Up Winter 2014

Breakin’ Up Winter by  Louise Todd

BUW2014 (click on photo for larger image)

Nine folks from the Athens Dulcimers spent an enjoyable weekend at Cedars of Lebanon State Park, March 6-9, enjoying the activities of Breakin’ Up Winter. “The Roots of Old Time Music,” was the theme for this year; it is sponsored by the Nashville Old Time String Band Association or NOTSBA.  Their website is This was the 15th year for the festival.

 It was a beautiful weekend and there was lots of jamming’ taking place in the cabins, the Lodge and wherever one could find a spot. Some of us played on the bleachers! Besides cabins, there are two bunkhouses, RV spots and motels close by for those who like a little more comfort and  shopping opportunities!

The weekend featured a variety of learning opportunities for those interested in the roots of old time music.  I really do admire and appreciate those who have spent countless hours finding and preserving the old-time tunes and the history of where they originated. As well as lectures, there were artist led jams and also some great concerts.  There were many folks who donated their time to make the weekend enjoyable. Some of the lecturers and performers that I especially enjoyed were:

  • Alice Gerrard - 2014 Heritage Award Winner, founder/editor of the “Old Time Herald” (a publication still in print today), performer/singer worldwide and preserver of old time tunes.
  • Alan Jabbour – former director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, fiddle performer with Ken Perlman (banjo), preserver of old time tunes;
  • Ken Perlman – Old time banjo player in the clawhammer style (Roger and Louie attended this), Ken is also a folklorist collector and expert in his field and finger style guitar player. 
  • John Harrod - my fav lecture on the  Kentucky Women who contributed to the early music of the 20th century. “Their music got them through the hard times; music was their prozac.”  Jean Ritchie, considered by some as the “mother” of the mountain dulcimer, was recognized in this lecture, along with many others. Jean lives in an assisted living home in Berea, KY.  Her son carries on her music at many of the dulcimer festivals; Jean and Doc Watson recorded  an album together.
  • Red Mountain White Trash  – the Birmingham based string band performed, they pride themselves in collecting and documenting old time tunes from AL; they ‘found’ “Step Around Johnny” around Oneonta and continue to ‘plant’ fiddle tunes from AL in their travels. Joyce has written a book about these tunes and their origins.

We enjoyed her lecture and their playing at Athens State University last month.

 There were many opportunities for Jammin’ as late as you wanted to stay into the wee hours of the morning all three nights; also, opportunities to hear new tunes; I thought I knew lots of tunes but realized that I was just beginning to learn!  Some serious shopping also took place AND there is already a chauffeur lined up for next year, but they had a pretty good one this year!!!